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Why Saddam will never disarm

William Shawcross says the Iraqi leader is prepared to go to any lengths to hold on to his deadly weapons

The Observer, Sunday February 23, 2003

Hans Blix, the United Nations' chief weapons inspector, has demanded that Iraq destroy all its al-Samoud missiles that have been found to exceed the UN's permitted range of 150 kilometres. Saddam may acquiesce for tactical reasons - above all because such 'concessions' would convince many people that the inspections are 'working' and that an armed attack is not only unnecessary but grotesque.

But the reality to remember is that Saddam will never voluntarily give up his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as resolution 1441 and 16 other resolutions demand. They are integral to his sense of his regime. His record shows that he considers no cost too high to retain his biological, chemical and whatever exists of his nuclear capability.

In 1991, the surrender agreement ending the war in Kuwait specifically guaranteed that Iraq would surrender its weapons of mass destruction within 15 days. Till then sanctions, imposed after his invasion of Kuwait, would remain. His refusal to do so has meant that the UN oil embargo has stayed for 12 years, costing Iraq more than $180 billion and its ordinary people great suffering. It is wrong to blame the West, or the UN, for the starvation and deaths of Iraqi children - Saddam is to blame and he considers it a small part of the price to pay for his proscribed weapons.

Saddam's obsession with his WMD has deep roots at home as well as abroad. First, he sees the threat of such weapons as a means of internal control over the 60 per cent of Iraqis who are Shia. The use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in 1998 taught the Shia the dangers of revolt. In 1999 a Shia revolt in the town of Najaf was crushed by Saddam's security forces accompanied by troops in white uniforms wearing gas masks. People were terrified that Saddam was about to gas them - with the weapons that Saddam denies having and for which the UN is still vainly searching. The Shia have been mostly cowed since.

WMD also helps to keep the regular armed forces in line, according to Amatzia Baram, of the Saban Centre at the Brookings Institution in Washington. They are controlled by the Special Security Organisation, which is loyal to Saddam. This serves as a counterweight to the regular army, whose officers Saddam does not trust. The army knows his ultimate power lies elsewhere.

Abroad, the benefits seem even more obvious. Saddam believes that Iraq's victory over Iran in 1998 was largely to do with Iraq's massive use of chemical weapons. He also believes that that was one of the principal reasons the Allies did not march on Baghdad in 1991. Watching the stand-off with North Korea he may have concluded that only nuclear weapons provide an unassailable deterrent.

His third incentive is his desire to become the unquestioned leader of the Arab world. His failure to seize Kuwait's oil resources in 1991 convinced him that nuclear weapons were essential. With nuclear weapons he would feel able to confront Israel in a spectacular way.

So WMD are tied into his sense of survival and his sense of destiny. He is brilliantly cunning at dividing his enemies. But he also makes spectacular misjudgments. He did not believe the allies would use force to throw him out of Kuwait. But he saw his own survival as a victory over his enemies. Equally victorious has been his campaign to keep his WMD for the 12 years.

The worldwide opposition to the US/UK use of force may have convinced him that tactics can get him off the hook again. This week, he could surrender the al-Samoud missiles so that Blix can report a 'great success' and thus split Saddam's enemies further. But he will never disarm voluntarily as resolution 1441 demands.

The inspectors may find some banned materials, by luck, perseverance and good intelligence - and because Saddam has made cunning tactical concessions. They will never find the bulk of the illegal weapons. But that is not their job. That is to monitor his voluntary disarmament. He is not doing that and he never will. He is in clear breach of resolution 1441 and he always will be. The decision the world faces is: will we let him get away with it again? George Bush and Tony Blair say No. They are right.